COURTESY OF CYNTHIA RUBENSTEIN
Kailua resident Noah Nugent received second-degree burns over 40 percent of his body in a Nov. 27 boat fire. He is shown here with sister, Jenny, while under care in Straub Hospital. He is now recuperating at his mother's home.
Burns idle 'ocean warrior'
Surfer and boater Noah Nugent faces a lengthy recovery after an accidental fire off Koko Head
A boating accident that left Kailua resident Noah Nugent with second-degree burns over 40 percent of his body has turned his world upside down. A construction worker, the 33-year-old Nugent may be better known around his Windward Oahu hometown as a surfer and Hawaiian sailing canoe racer.
Before the Nov. 27 boat fire, the 1990 graduate of Kalaheo High would spend virtually every waking hour outdoors or on the water.
HOW TO HELP
Donations to help Noah Nugent with expenses while he is recuperating from second-degree burns can be made to "Friends of Noah Nugent," care of the Hawaiian Sailing Canoe Association, 44-519-A Kaneohe Bay Drive, Kaneohe, HI 96744, or at First Hawaiian Bank in Kailua.
Being confined to his mother's house for recuperation after his Dec. 16 release from Straub Hospital's burn unit is "extremely weird -- I hate it, it's not my life," Nugent said in a brief telephone interview Friday.
"It's been very difficult," Nugent said. "I've been unable to work. I can't work. I cannot go into the ocean, cannot go into the sun."
His mother, Cynthia Rubenstein, said he can't go into salt water for at least six months or into sunlight for a year or more while his body heals.
Rubenstein praised Straub for helping her son, though his treatment included painful skin scrubbings twice a day for three weeks to remove skin killed by the fire. Because nerve endings remain sensitive in second-degree burns, the process "was like going through hell," she said.
Nugent doesn't want to talk about details of the accident or his recovery. He ended a short interview by thanking his friends for their "outstanding" support through a difficult time.
Rubenstein said that on Nov. 27, a Sunday, Nugent started out in the morning to pilot a 28-foot Boston Whaler from Hawaii Kai to Kailua-Kona. He planned to fly back to Oahu that afternoon after making the delivery. Also on the boat was another man and his young son.
But before the boat got far from shore, a fire broke out. The Honolulu Fire Department estimated the fire occurred at 8:50 a.m., about a mile off Koko Head.
The Fire Department originally reported that a man and a boy were burned by the onboard fire and taken to a hospital, and a second man from the boat was treated and released by paramedics. Official updates on their condition weren't available, but Rubenstein said it's her understanding that neither of the other two was seriously injured.
Nugent was burned on his face, arms and legs by a fire that Rubenstein described as "horrific" and "very fast."
"Noah had the wherewithal to call 911 from the boat (on his cell phone) while it was burning" before the three aboard the boat jumped into the water, Rubenstein said.
The three were picked up by a passing boat, then transferred to a Coast Guard boat that took them to shore, where an ambulance was waiting.
Rubenstein said she shudders to think what would have happened if the fire had started farther from shore.
The Coast Guard and Fire Department reported that they were able to extinguish the boat fire and tow the boat to land. But the boat later re-ignited while being towed by a car and had to be put out again by firefighters.
The boat Eye Catcher was registered with the state Department of Land and Natural Resources as belonging to Charles Muller of Waimanalo.
Muller told the Star-Bulletin last week that he had sold the boat to a Big Island man and Nugent was delivering it on the day of the fire. Muller said he doesn't know the cause of the fire and hasn't been contacted regarding any investigation into its cause.
No cause of the fire was available from the DLNR, Fire Department or Coast Guard.
Rubenstein said her son is a giving person who was "constantly saving people in kayaks" who got into trouble in Kailua waters. "He never said a word" about rescues, she said, but more than once, people have come up to her and said, "Your son saved my life."
Terry Galpin, president of the Hawaiian Sailing Canoe Association, said Nugent, a member and friend, is an "ocean warrior" who will overcome his adversity.
Watching fellow association members rally to help Nugent and another member who recently broke his neck in a body-surfing accident "reminded me of what this time of year is supposed to be about," Galpin wrote in an e-mail to association members. "It isn't about presents or holiday decorations. ... It's about life, love and family."